Prince Harry’s place in the British royal family presents an age-old conundrum. His existence as King Charles’ second son, the so-called spare—not the heir—is a relic of the Middle Ages, when elder sons of the noble class got the lion’s share of the land and titles. Back then, the latter offspring, screwed over by the laws of primogeniture, looked elsewhere for ill-gotten fame and plunder. Some became drifters or sellswords; others voyaged to the Holy Land to pillage Muslim cities during the Crusades.
In his younger years, Prince Harry participated in the modern crusade that was the Global War on Terror, serving in Afghanistan. More recently, he has opted to plant his flag in an altogether different kind of terrain. Like countless other millennials who feel shorted by their boomer parents and society at large, he has become a white knight in the Great Posting Wars of the West.
The Prince’s tell-all memoir, Spare, was released this week, accompanied by Harry’s heart-to-heart TV interviews with Anderson Cooper, Michael Strahan, and Stephen Colbert to (unironically) plead his case that the media destroyed his privacy. And as if all that weren’t enough, there are dozens of hours of more self-promotional Harry-and-Meghan content available to consume or on the way: TV shows, feature films, children’s books and programming, podcasts, and more.
As far as career changes go, it’s a canny one. Why remain a mere cog in a fading conservative empire of old cultural power when you can change continents and earn hundreds of millions of dollars as a star of the Fourth Estate?
The script that Hollywood and the Democratic establishment have written for famous and influential people in the post-Trump era works quite perfectly for Harry and Meghan. Liberals’ obsession with media representation as the primary vehicle for solving inequalities means that the Duke and Duchess could remain inert cultural symbols, satisfied with the idea that their success—in particular, Meghan’s as a woman of color—would somehow trickle down to the marginalized. Being famous for being married means that really all they have to do is stay married. Just parade yourself in front of US documentary cameras, rather than the British public, and call it a day.
Alas, Harry and Meghan’s attempt to join the Obama and Clinton families as the new kings and queens of feel-good liberal infotainment is off to a rocky start. Internet stans aside, many are already beginning to grow queasy with the couple’s ever-swelling catalog of content because of an unavoidable fact: It’s cringe.
Take Netflix’s Harry & Meghan documentary, an Instagram story’s worth of content stretched to six interminable hours. In episode six’s waning moments, my thoughts drifted to House of Dragon. Some of that can undoubtedly be attributed to the fact that the Game of Thrones prequel is the other streaming series released last year that luxuriates in palace intrigue and intra-royal family squabbling. But whereas HBO’s literal-minded brand of familial backstabbing is eminently watchable, Harry & Meghan isn’t. It’s a pearl-clutching comedy of manners minus the comedy and, frankly, without the manners.
One of the show’s repellent aims is to convince viewers that two bland rich people who met by sliding into each other’s DMs are the protagonists of an epic, real-life fairy tale, an animated Disney film made flesh. Another subplot is a conversion story, one of missionary Meghan convincing one of the world’s biggest shareholders of “white privilege” to publicly renounce it in favor of the tenets of contemporary elite American liberalism.
Woke-washing is everywhere in Harry & Meghan. The pair frequently cloaks whiny quibbles about royal life or mean tweets in social justice-y discourse. Harry, for instance, accuses the royal family of “institutional gaslighting,” and Meghan implies that making the Netflix documentary was part of her self-care routine. It also allows them to frame their story—which at the end of the day, is about power and narrative control—as one of victimhood at the hands of the celebrity-obsessed media and conservative institutions.
But it’s hard to watch it with a straight face, especially when Prince Harry complains about racist microaggressions against his wife with one side of his mouth and then brags about his military prowess in Afghanistan out of the other. In a passage in Spare, he claims to have personally killed 25 Taliban fighters, remarking that he viewed the soldiers as pieces being removed from a chessboard: “Baddies eliminated before they could kill Goodies.”
The real meat of Harry & Meghan is vengeance, and lots of it. The Duke and Duchess attempt to settle scores against everyone on the planet the couple feels wronged by. The duo makes it clear that they are the Goodies and almost everyone else is Baddies, whether it’s the British royals, Meghan’s dad’s side of the family, the clickbaity media, or the gossip-loving public. Hell, even Twitter randos get dragged. By the time Harry has blamed his own family for his personal misery and voluntary exile, the press for his mother’s death and wife’s miscarriage, and Brexit on Meghan-hating British voters, well—I was ready for one of HBO’s fire-breathing CGI dragons to burst out of some secret chamber of the couple’s posh Los Angeles mansion and spare us from more.
That was wishful thinking. The crown-jewel-sized chip on Prince Harry’s shoulder is being mined for endless content coming to a screen near you. God Save The King—and our eyeballs.